Tuesday, February 19, 2019

And the father is...

One of my genealogy goals for 2018 was to identify the biological father of my great-aunt, Bettye Harris. I tried a few times throughout the year to work on that, but the test results for her daughter didn't give me any good leads at 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, or MyHeritage. I realized that if I really wanted to make some headway on this mystery, I needed to have Bettye's daughter test at Ancestry. When I asked if she was up for doing one more test, she graciously said yes and even paid for it (always a bonus!). I had hoped to get the results around Christmas last year, but something went wrong at Ancestry and they couldn't process the test. So they shipped another kit out to her, and she spit again, and this time the test processed correctly. The results came in on Saturday evening, and I immediately set to work.

Most of her closest matches were paternal relatives, first cousins or their kids. But then, in her list of second cousin-ish matches, was one match (I'll call her Amy) with an extensive pedigree, with no familiar names - nothing from any known branch of Bettye's family tree. I got excited, thinking this could be from the mystery line! The family seemed to be mostly Welsh and English, with surnames like Owens and Bowen and Evans. As I looked at the list of matches Bettye's daughter shared with Amy, none of her paternal matches were listed, nor were any maternal matches from my side of her family. I found several matches that Bettye and Amy shared that all descended from the same couple - William Bowen and Anna Evans, born in Wales in the 1820s, so a little over a hundred years before Bettye was born. That was enough space for there to be at least three generations between them and Bettye, maybe four. William and Anna were Amy's paternal great-grandparents. Their daughter Anna Bowen and her husband Albert Owens were Amy's grandparents.

While going through Amy's shared matches, I found one match from Amy's Owens side, which connected to Albert Owens' grandfather, Owen Pritchard Owens, but through an uncle of Albert's, not through Albert himself. The only way it made sense for there to be a connection to both the Bowen and Owens sides is for Bettye to be related to both. The easiest way for that to happen was for Bettye to be descended from both families. Albert and Anna were the only connection between those two families I could find.

Albert and Anna married in Wisconsin somewhere around 1896. They had eight sons and one daughter, though she died as an infant. Their sons were born between 1898 and 1910, which doesn't really leave enough time for any of them to grow up, have a child to grow up enough to father Bettye. That meant that Bettye's father was likely one of their sons! So of course they had eight. :P

I knew right off that Bettye wasn't the daughter of two of them, Rexford and William James, as they were the ancestors of the close matches, and if Bettye was the daughter of either of them, the amount of shared DNA would have been much higher. I found census records showing Albert and Anna moved their family to Florida pretty early on after getting married, though two of the sons, Roy and Albert, apparently moved to Montana in the 1930s, right around the time that Bettye was born. Newspaper articles showed they lived in Philipsburg, where James Harris, the man who raised Bettye, was originally from. That Harris family connection to Philipsburg means James and Edna, Bettye's mother, likely visited Philipsburg often, as it was only 53 miles or so from Butte, where James and Edna lived at the time. So the right people were in the right place at the right time, and the DNA evidence and paper trail both make sense.

A little more digging in newspapers led me to articles describing how the whole Owens family would visit Philipsburg in the summers, but they don't say when that tradition started. So it is technically possible that one of the other sons aside from Roy or Albert could have been Bettye's father. In my mind, it makes the most sense for it to be Roy or Albert though, because they had the longest history in the area, and I know they were both in the area at the right time. The only way to know for sure would be to identify a living descendant and have them do a DNA test and see how much DNA is shared. Roy apparently didn't have any children (his obituary only names step-children) but Albert might. I don't know if I need to go that far, as I've already determined the family and therefore the ancestry of Bettye's paternal side, so if her descendants want to know, they can take that up themselves. Unless curiosity gets the better of me down the road. :)

I'm still in a bit of shock at having finally solved this mystery. It's been hanging silently over my head since we discovered this almost seven years ago. It really underscores the power of DNA and genetic genealogy, both to find out something like this occurred, and then determine who out of all the possible people that lived in that place and time was the father of a girl born to an obscure family in western Montana in the 1930s.

Interesting side note - both Roy and Albert died sudden, unexpected deaths. Roy died of an apparent heart attack early one morning, which was more shocking because he had been at work the night before and nothing appeared wrong. Albert died in a work accident, and was crushed to death by the bed of a dump truck after being trapped there while unloading it. For both of the candidates for Bettye's father to die like they did is just very odd.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Genes Day Friday - Fred Gibson's Top 20

I'm going to try a new blog post series, I'm calling it the Top 20. I'll be going over my relatives' top five matches from each testing company they've tested at, and what that match shows me about our family. Of course, the Top 20 will only include matches that I didn't test, because what would be the point of talking about my grandpa matching my dad? That was kind of expected. So to kick of the series, I'm starting with my paternal grandfather, Fred Gibson. Of course, I won't be using their real names, because they haven't consented to being spotlighted like this in public like this.

1. His closest match at ancestry is on his mom's side. She's a granddaughter of Heinrich Joseph, Sam Joseph's older brother. Their common ancestors are Fred's great-grandparents, Ludwig Heinrich Joseph and Justine Witt. That makes her Fred's second cousin. She shares 347 cM with Fred, which is right in line for a second cousin. The cool thing is, everyone on their shared match list is connect to Ludwig, Justine, or their descendants. Now if only I had a chromosome browser to map those sections of DNA...

2. His next match is another Joseph relative. She doesn't have a tree up, and I can't find her online anywhere, but she looks like a second cousin (283 cM), and she shares a ton of Joseph relatives. Some of that Joseph DNA carried down to my dad, my sister and me too, so that was cool to see.

3. The next match is really interesting, and would be even more interesting if I knew her name and family tree in full. She matches on Fred's dad's side, and is a shared match with both Gibson and Cain relatives. That means she is likely a descendant of John Gibson and Catherine Cain, Fred's grandparents. They have 205 cM of DNA in common, so she's still pretty close. If only she'd log in to the Ancestry account and respond! But at least I can use her shared match list to find more Gibson connections.

4. Next up is another Joseph side match. She's a great-granddaughter of Christina "Tina" Joseph, Sam Joseph's sister. There's actually quite a few of Tina's descendants that have tested at Ancestry, so piecing together her family has been pretty easy. But it's great to have so many Joseph relatives to talk to, because when I first started out in researching my family history, the Joseph side was one that I knew the least about. Not any more!

5. Number five is actually the son of match 1. Every generation gets about half of what their parents have. This match shares 162 cM, just under half of what his mother shares with Fred. It's cool to see the laws of genetics play out like that right in front of you.

1. The closest match at 23andMe is a granddaughter of Fred's uncle Elmer Joseph. It was pretty cool to find out that Elmer's descendants have tested, as grandpa knew Elmer pretty well, and has talked a lot about him. She shares 515 cM with, perfect for the first cousin once removed relationship they have.

2-4. I'm lumping these together because they are all children of Elmer's granddaughter.

5. This match is Fred's closest Gibson match at 23andMe. She is a great-granddaughter of Fred's aunt Annie Condon, his dad's only sister. One day I hope to get a picture of her, as Fred knew her really well and has lots of stories about her and her sons. It was from one of the Condon's that Fred heard about how his grandfather, John Gibson, would wait outside the Catholic church his wife Catherine (Cain) Gibson attended, never going inside, and walking home with her afterwards.

1. The closest match at FTDNA was a real surprise. This cousin has ancestry from the same part of New Brunswick, Canada, that the Gibsons lived in for 40 years. He matches my other Gibson line relatives, but not the Cain ones, so he's gotta be connected to the Gibsons. As near as we can tell, he's descended from one of John Gibson's brothers, but we don't know which one. I'm thinking of trying to trace the lines forward and find some people to test, but it's been tough going to do that. So far my only success was tracing one of the sister's lines to about the 1980s. Not giving up on solving this one though! He shares 144 cM of DNA with Fred, so the match is real.

2. This one, I have absolutely no idea how she's connected. She doesn't match any of the Gibson or Joseph matches at FTDNA, and she shares just over 100 cM, so this one is a real puzzler.

3. Now this match was really exciting. He is a Gibson side match, and he has recent ancestry from Ireland! His grandmother's surname was Stephenson, which I found out not long ago was the maiden name of my 3rd-great-grandmother, Ann (Stephenson) Gibson, and she was from County Fermanagh, where my Gibsons emigrated from! I was hoping to hear back from him and see if he's found any more, but nothing yet. Maybe I should email him. He's another match over 100 cM so worth pursuing.

4. This one is another puzzler. Only 66 cM, but he doesn't match any of the Gibson or Joseph matches on here, including the cousins I've had tested. No idea where he fits in.

5. The last one at FTDNA is a Gibson match, and is a shared match with 1 and 3. She doesn't have a tree, and she shares just under 50 cM, so unless she puts up a tree, I probably won't pursue this one anytime soon.

1. Fred's closest match here is another descendant of his uncle Elmer Joseph, making him a first cousin twice removed. I should point out too that Elmer's original name was Emil Joseph, and he (or his dad) anglicized it after they moved to Montana. He shares 467 cMs, so a great way to confirm Joseph side matches.

2. This is the same as #1 at FTDNA. He did the smart thing and tested at multiple companies (also at Ancestry and I think 23andMe as well).

3. Next up is another Joseph match. She doesn't have a tree on her account, but I can see she matches some of Fred's closest Joseph matches. She has 147 cM of shared DNA, so maybe 2nd cousin once removed, or first cousin twice removed.

4. This one turned out to be the same as #2 at FTDNA, but she had a tree attached to this account. The tree only shows most of her dad's side and none of her mom's but luckily we match on her dad's side. Turns out she's another descendant of Sam Joseph's sister Tina.

5. This one was amazing!!!! Turns out, I hadn't see her before today, so I went and checked out her tree to see how she matched up. Turns out, she is a descendant of Henry Gibson and Ann Stephenson, my 3rd-great-grandparents, through their daughter, Sarah Jane Gibson!! This is the first time I've found a DNA match to a cousin descended from Henry and Ann!!! She is Fred's second cousin twice removed, and shares 107 cM of DNA with him, which is perfect for that relationship. I have been wanting DNA confirmation that Henry and Ann were my people for years, I've had paper trail confirmation for a long time now, but I've always wanted to find another descendant and test them. Now I don't have to! I can use this connection to look for other people who are related to Henry and Ann, and maybe find some links to Ireland. I am bound and determined to find more info on my Gibson over there and then visit the country. One step closer!

So, in conclusion, this was an awesome and fun way to go through some of my grandpa's top matches, and it led to an amazing discovery! I think next time I'll do this with another grandparent's test. But which one?